What Is Organic Food?

There has been a big movement in the organic food industry in the recent years. It seems as more people ‘go green’ there has been a preference for organic food. These food products are starting to appear more on the grocery store shelves and there are some businesses devoted wholly to organic foods. But what are organic foods? Where can I buy organic foods? Are they better for you? Where are they grown and who grows them?

With the introduction of chemical and synthetic fertilizers back in the early 1940’s, they immediately sparked some concern among health and environmental activists that has continued to this day. Organic food is different from other modern food products due to the way that it is grown, raised, handled, and processed. Organic food is produced without the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, ionizing radiation, and genetic modifiers. Organic foods are all about environmental conservation and the elimination of chemicals in our food. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture strictly regulates all food production that is labeled as ‘organic’.

Who Grows Organic Foods?

At one time, the only place to get organic foods was direct from the producing farmers. There was a select few small farmers that believed in growing produce using natural means. Large scale farming companies still used conventional methods with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. However, as the consumption of organic foods has grown over the years, the volume of organic food production has risen to meet industry demand. Larger farming companies are now in the organic business and have made the switch to natural methods. A recent study shows that there are approximately 13,000 certified organic growers in the United States and there are more being certified every year. As consumer demand for the product increases, you will be able to find organic products more easily.

Why Do Organic Foods Cost More?

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Anyone who shops for organic foods knows that they cost more than conventional foods. Why? Since you are eliminating expensive chemical fertilizers and hormones, shouldn’t the product be cheaper? The answer is no. The price of organic foods is a more accurate reflection of how much it really costs to grow the food. Think of it like this: since you don’t have chemicals doing all the work, there is more labor and management involved. Prices for organic foods include costs of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced foods must also meet stricter government regulations than conventional foods in regards to these stages in production. So basically, in order to help the environment and protect the health of farm workers, the cost for labor and management for organic production is generally more expensive than conventional farming.

Some studies show that if all the indirect costs were added into conventional foods, they would be about the same price as organic foods. However, if the price of organics is a concern, it is possible to cut back on some of the costs by buying direct from farmers such as at farmers markets and other venues.

Is Organic Food Better Or Healthier?

There is some debate about whether organic food is healthier than conventional food. While organic food has definitely had better press than some conventional foods, there is still not a definite answer on if it is healthier or not. There are simply too many variables involved to do an accurate study. You have to consider crop variety, crop yield, post-harvest handling, type of soil, and climate conditions. All of these can have a significant influence on the quality of food. The traditional food growers will argue that all food is the same while the nutritionalists are likely to browbeat everyone they meet into buying only organic products.

A few negative things about organic foods (besides the cost) are that there are not organic growers everywhere nearby. That means that transportation is involved which, until they manufacture a reliable electric semi-truck, means fossil fuels. Another negative aspect is that organic foods do not last as long as conventional foods. They tend to wither and go bad at a much faster rate. However, there are frozen organics out there that still contain most of their original nutritional value.

In favor of organic foods, they are far less likely to contain trace pesticides and other chemicals which are sometimes found in conventional food. Also, a study in 2007 found that organic foods contain more antioxidants than conventional foods. But as far as taste, nutrition, and quality goes, that is all debatable. The bottom line is that even if organic foods are not necessarily healthier than conventional foods, there is no doubt that they are better on the environment and the health of workers within the industry.